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Franklin Graham tour ‘poses risk to social cohesion’, say bishops

06 December 2019

Two bishops deplore preacher’s rhetoric; a third welcomes him


Franklin Graham speaks to a crowd at a stadium in Hickory, North Carolina, in October, an event that attracted over 8000 attendees, as part of his Decision American Tour

Franklin Graham speaks to a crowd at a stadium in Hickory, North Carolina, in October, an event that attracted over 8000 attendees, as part of his Dec...

A TOUR by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, to “share the hope of Jesus”, should not be supported by parishes, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, has said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday of last week, Dr Wilcox said that he could not support the mission event due to be held on 6 June at the FlyDSA Arena, Sheffield, “and so will not be encouraging parishes in the diocese of Sheffield to support it either”.

The Bishop explained: “Mr Graham’s rhetoric is repeatedly and unnecessarily inflammatory, and, in my opinion, represents a risk to the social cohesion of our city.

“I gladly took part in Billy Graham’s Mission England in 1984, as a candidate for ordained ministry, and in his LiveLink Mission in 1989, as a curate. But, to my sadness, I detect a tailing off of humility and generosity in the Graham organisation since those days.”

Dr Wilcox was supported by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, whose diocese is also due to be visited during the eight-city tour, which will arrive at the M&S Bank Arena on 12 June. He posted a message on Twitter: “I endorse +Pete’s excellent statement. My parents’ faith was greatly deepened by Billy Graham’s UK visit in 1954, the year after I was born. They shared that faith with me as I grew up. There is no room in it for angry politics, walls, exclusion, fear of the other.”

A statement from the diocese of Oxford, another stop on the tour, issued this week, said that the Bishop, Dr Steven Croft, was “broadly in agreement” with Dr Wilcox’s statement. The diocese was “currently working with others to consider the most appropriate response to Graham’s planned tour next summer”.

The Bishop of Birkenhead, Dr Keith Sinclair, however, has commended the tour.

“I owe my own conversion to Christ in part to the Billy Graham Crusade in Earls Court, London, in 1966,” he said in a statement issued in October, shortly after the launch announcing the tour. “I have long admired and been blessed by the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association . . . and want to commend the Graham Tour event at M&S Bank Arena. . . Many from churches across the Wirral and beyond may be bringing friends, as I was brought over 50 years ago. May many hear the saving news of God in Christ. May many come to receive and experience a new birth in the Holy Spirit.”

Other bishops whose dioceses are due to be visited by the tour did not respond to a request for comment. The Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne, declined to comment.

In 2017, two priests in the diocese of Blackburn urged their Bishop, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, to make it clear that an invitation extended to Franklin Graham by churches in Blackpool was “not in your name” (News, 8 December 2017). The letter stated that Mr Franklin had made “Islamophobic” comments such as “Islam has declared war on the world.” The Muslim Council of Britain joined MPs in asking the Home Office to decline Mr Graham’s visa request, on the grounds of hate speech.

Bishop Henderson said that he would adopt a “neutral position”, while adding that “within the Christian ethic there is no room for hate of another person, and I do not defend the use of such language.”

Mr Graham has also been outspoken in his opposition to same-sex relationships, warning that, “in many churches across America, homosexuals, adulterers, and sexually active youth can sit in the church pew and rarely be confronted by the convicting Word of God.”

At the October launch, Mr Graham said: “Two-thirds of people in the UK say they are unfulfilled, and nearly 20 per cent struggle with constant loneliness. Only Jesus Christ offers lasting purpose, in this life and for eternity. He is our only hope — and you can reach your community with his love.”

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